Tuesday, April 30, 2013

EU Countries Divided Over Tymoshenko Case

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- As the May deadline for signing a EU-Ukraine association agreement approaches, some EU countries are prepared to overlook the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, arguing that the Union should not lose Ukraine over the fate of one person.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip recently opened a Pandora’s box by saying that EU-Ukraine relations should not hinge on “one lady”, referring to Tymoshenko who is serving a press sentence for abuse of office.

Ansip’s comment, made three weeks ago on a trip to Ukraine, unleashed a barrage of criticism.

But many concurred with him.

Before leaving for Kiev, Ansip also hinted that the EU was not in a position to say whether Tymoshenko was indeed victim of “selective justice”, a term referring to the alleged vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovich against Tymoshenko and her allies.

"As onlookers we are not prepared to say whether Tymoshenko is guilty or not," he said, adding:

“We know that a few Estonian businessmen also suffered when she was prime minister, having made their investments in accordance to a licence received from the state and suddenly Tymoshenko's government said that activities in certain areas are prohibited, rendering the investments worthless. The money was lost.”

Ansip was criticised from many circles, one Estonian commentator even writing a piece titled “The prime minister's political prostitution”.

On 17 April Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to Ansip while he visited Berlin.

She made it plain in his presence that until the Tymoshenko case is not solved, an association agreement with the EU could not be signed. 

Tymoshenko is ‘no angel’ 

Diplomats from other countries, who asked not to be named, expressed views similar to those of the Estonian prime minister.

“[Tymoshenko] is no angel either. Europe should not be hostage of one person … The EU should not loose Ukraine geopolitically … Europe should not be a victim of its procedures,” one EU diplomat said.

Another diplomat pointed out that countries were now split between “two extremes”, one being the position expressed by Ansip and backed by some other countries, and Germany.

He also said that tensions were mounting ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November, with some countries questioning the May deadline for deciding whether the association agreement with Ukraine can be signed.

On selective justice, Ukraine has made a step forward by freeing former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko and five other people, including former environmental protection minister Heorhiy Filipchuk, the diplomat said.

Regarding Tymoshenko, he saw it as unrealistic that any positive developments could take place in the short term.

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office, pronounced on 11 October 2011.

Two other cases were brought against her concerning state fund embezzlement and tax evasion which allegedly occurred in 2001 and an attempt to bribe Supreme Court judges in 2004.

In addition, she was charged in January with commissioning the murder of Yevgen Shcherban a powerful lawmaker in 1996.

Tymoshenko rejected the charge, calling it “hysteria”.

Female supporters lose vote 

A recent appeal sought by women members of the Ukrainian parliament was unanimously rejected on Monday by the country’s presidential pardons commission.

The presidential pardon act can only apply to convicts, whereas Tymoshenko is still a defendant in "three criminal cases," commission Chairman Hennadiy Vasyliev said, Ukrainian media reported.

Several prominent former Ukrainian diplomats recently filed a separate petition to release Tymoshenko, addressed to Yanukovich.

They argue that Tymoshenko's release would mean “the end of political repression, the restoration of the rule of law, and the return of Ukraine to the circle of civilised democracies, which will finally allow Ukraine to give life to its historical European choice”.

Press agencies quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov saying that requests for Tymoshenko to be pardoned would be considered at the end of the court proceedings in the murder case in which she is a defendant.


Asked by EurActiv to comment reports on division in EU circles regarding Tymoshenko, Peter Stano, spokesman for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle, said that “selective justice” is one of the three conditions for the EU to sign the association agreement, which also include addressing the democratic shortcomings stemming from the October national elections and advancing judiciary reforms.

Source: EurActiv

TVi Channel Plunges Into Further Disarray

KIEV, Ukraine -- TVi, a Ukrainian television channel that exposed corruption in the government and which was recently embroiled in an ownership battle, plunged into further disarray on Monday when most of its reporters quit.

TVi talk show host Mustafa Nayem

The move comes after days of negotiations between the reporters and management failed to resolve disagreements.

The reporters accused the management of introducing censorship at the channel.

The development deals a devastating blow to the channel, one of few that have been providing unbiased reporting and giving airtime to opposition figures.

A previous owner had been reportedly seeking to sell for $120 million.

“We do not see any possibility to perform our professional duties at the channel as we no longer can guarantee our audience objective and unbiased coverage,” the reporters said in a statement.

“People that claim to be the [new] owners and the [new] managers have destroyed the reputation of TVi,” the reporters said.

“In this situation the only acceptable way out for us is to quit.”

The massive exodus from TVi, which affects at least 31 reporters and staff members, comes as President Viktor Yanukovych has been seeking to reassert his grip on power ahead of the next presidential election in March 2015.

There were signs the government may have been supporting the reshuffle of the ownership and the management in order to stop investigative reports uncovering corruption among officials.

Pavel Sheremet, a TVi talk show host recently fired by the new owners, cited undisclosed sources at the new management, to say that the attack on the channel was ordered by Serhiy Arbuzov, the first deputy prime minister and the most trusted lieutenant of Yanukovych.

The ownership and management reshuffle was needed to ease criticism of Yanukovych and to step up uncovering corruption at a rival political group within the ruling Regions Party, Sheremet said.

The group that Arbuzov had allegedly wanted to target included Serhiy Liovochkin, the chief of staff at the Yanukovych administration and billionaire Dmytro Firtash, Sheremet said.

Yuriy Lutsenko, an opposition leader who was jailed to four years in prison two years ago and recently pardoned by Yanukovych, said the exodus of reporters would change TVi completely.

“After the resignations, there will be no channel the people believed to and the government feared,” Lutsenko said in post on his Facebook account.

“I loved everything here over the past two years,” Nastya Stanko, one of the reporters that had quit, tweeted on Monday.

“RIP, TVi.”

Mustafa Nayem, another TVi talk show host who quit, said the reporters will probably start a new project, an internet-based television channel.

“This project will be truly transparent, there will be no oligarchs. This will be an internet project in which we will do our job,” Nayem said.

“I can’t say when it starts, but I think in the near future."  

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ukraine Thanks Russia, US For Chernobyl Aid

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine -- Ukraine marked the 27th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster by thanking Russia, the US and other countries for their support in funding the construction of a new covering structure for the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Chernobyl today and the gas masks for the kids from the nuclear disaster.

"On behalf of Ukraine, I would like to express gratitude to European countries, the European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Russia, the US, Japan and Canada for their active participation in the Chernobyl Shelter Fund," Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said during a visit to the plant.

The plant was abandoned in 1986 after an explosion there that sent a plume of radiation over large parts of Europe.

Yanukovych said by 2014, Kiev will have spent over $100 million on the new shelter, which is designed to be slid over the existing sarcophagus covering the remains of Unit 4, where the explosion happened.

The New Safe Confinement project, which aims to transform the site into a safe and environmentally stable area, is funded through contributions by over 40 donor nations to the EBRD Chernobyl Shelter Fund.

Russia has contributed a total of 50 million euros to the fund ($65 million).

The project's implementation will significantly reduce the risk of further radiological contamination and facilitate the deconstruction of the existing sarcophagus, which was built soon after the disaster and has been deteriorating for some years.

The 29,000-tonne new covering structure will enclose a territory measuring 257 metres (843 feet) by 164 metres (538 feet) using spans 110 metres high (361 feet), and is due for completion in 2015.

Source: RIA Novosti

Communist Party Of Ukraine Initiates A Parliamentary Investigation Into Financial Irregularities Under The "Eastern Partnership" Programme

KIEV, Ukraine -- On April 25th, during a press conference at the press center of Ukrainian News Agency "Voice of UA", leaders of the communist parties of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus raised the question of foreign policy of Ukraine's priorities, and the attempts of some political forces in the country imposing their views on the Ukrainian people.

Communist leader Petro Symonenko

It has been well-known that since 2009 the European Union has spent 2.8 billion Euros ($3.7 billion) for the implementation of the "Eastern Partnership" in Ukraine and Moldova.

Of this sum, Ukraine has received over 2 billion Euros ($2.6 billion).

In his speech, the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) Petro Symonenko said: "Given the available information, there is every reason to suppose that the amount was stolen under the cover of officials of the European Commission."

There is a long-standing technology for spending these budgets - the money is being allocated to loyal funds "for development of democracy," and then it is being shared with the grant-baited local organizations.

In connection to this, the CPU has initiated a parliamentary investigation into financial irregularities under the "Eastern Partnership" programme in Ukraine.

Our colleagues from Moldova and the European Parliament can support us in this initiative.

"We appeal to the leadership of the European Commission with the imperative to stop the allocation of funds to programmes aimed at forceful Ukraine's European integration."

"Until the public hear from the EU officials a detailed report on the expenditure of allocated funds under this programme, we will consider all future grants and subsidies for the continuation of the European integration as a continuation of corrupting Ukrainian and Moldovan officials, who unaccountably spend them in their own way."

Symonenko also maintained that "the main political motive that lay in the heart of European efforts to draw Ukraine into its sphere of influence through the signing of the free trade zone Agreement is to prevent the creation of a powerful trade and economic integration in the East - the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union, an integral part of which must be Ukraine."

According to the latest estimates of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of Russian Academy of Sciences, the annual loss of revenue of Ukraine, which remains outside the framework of the Customs Union, is $10-$15 billion dollars - nearly a third of its annual budget.

Obviously, the prospect of Ukraine's membership in the EU is a myth.

This is particularly noticeable on the background of the financial crisis that is gaining momentum in Europe.

The European Commission's new initiative to spread the practice of weaning the Cyprus deposits to the whole of the EU is nothing but a sign of a stalemate or a critical situation in the European economy with serious domestic problem.

Greece later this year could leave the Euro zone.

For the EU an attempt to impose an Agreement on association and free trade with Ukraine will become a kind of an injection for the half-dead European economy.

Its result will be deterioration in the trade balance of Ukraine, the growth of imports from the EU with a relative decline in exports from Ukraine, a reduction in production output and a fall in the level of GDP.

This is an obvious disadvantage for all sectors of the Ukrainian industry.

The agreement on free trade zone with the EU has a number of restrictions on export of goods, including agricultural products.

These facts are unlikely to contribute to Ukraine's rapprochement with the European Union, particularly in the run-up to the coming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, which is planned for November.

The venue of the summit has not been selected randomly - Lithuania, as well as all Baltic states, are a typical example of the negative effects of the European integration.

The mass exodus of the working population to the countries of old Europe, stifling local manufacturers, huge unemployment, the elimination of their own industry and the destruction of agriculture in favor of Bavarian farmers - this is a classic picture of the economic situation for the EU pioneers.

"Brussels needs new countries just as a territorial factor and a donor of cheap unskilled labor force - such as nannies, maids, cleaners, taxi drivers, security guards and prostitutes in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, etc."

"We stand strongly against such a format of international integration of Ukraine - in the interests of Ukrainian oligarchs and European officials."

"Ukrainians should determine themselves their own destiny and be guided, first and foremost, by the interests of the Ukrainian manufacturers, and their main buyer is in the East - in the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan."

Source: Yahoo Finance

Sunday, April 28, 2013

EU, Ukraine Warm To Each Other After Former Minister’s Release From Prison

KIEV, Ukraine -- The European Union has visibly warmed to Ukraine after President Viktor Yanukovych freed from prison the former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko, a victim of selective justice.

Yury Lutsenko

Judging by recent statements from EU and Ukrainian officials, they now see a real chance to sign an association and free trade deal.

The main stumbling blocks are Kiev’s delays in adoption of the legislation needed to qualify and reluctance to free former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

However, apparently not all in the EU continue to insist on her release from prison, which may make it easier for Kiev to qualify for the deal.

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement were technically ready for signing months ago, but the EU insisted that Ukraine first release Tymoshenko and Lutsenko and upgrade its legislation.

Brussels agreed at the Ukraine-EU summit in February that the deal would be signed in November if Ukraine met its conditions by May.

Even a month ago, it seemed that Kiev was hopelessly behind schedule.

However, at that point Yanukovych may have made a geopolitical choice between rapprochement with the EU and joining the Customs Union with Russia — in favor of the EU.

On April 7, Yanukovych pardoned Lutsenko, who in February 2012 was sentenced to four years in jail for granting privileges to his former driver.

Yanukovych’s advisor Andry Honcharuk did not conceal that Yanukovych did so to appease the EU, noting that an “appropriate atmosphere” was being created for the signing of the association deal.

Lutsenko’s release was by far not the most important of the EU’s 11, 19 or 71 conditions (according to different counts), but it was a powerful signal from Yanukovych that he was ready to set aside personal enmity for the sake of rapprochement with the EU.

The opposition has also looked increasingly prone to set aside its differences with Yanukovych.

Although the three opposition factions, Fatherland, Punch (Udar) and Freedom, continued their blockade of parliament on issues unrelated to the EU through April, they helped the ruling Party of Regions to pass the anti-corruption amendments requested by the EU.

This gave Kiev grounds for optimism.

Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Andry Klyuyev said after meeting top EU officials in Brussels on April 23–24 that Ukraine would meet all conditions for the signing of the association and free trade agreement on time.

He said that of the ten laws required by the EU, Ukraine’s parliament has thus far given preliminary approval to two, passed another two, and should pass the rest by June.

The EU has also made several important steps toward Ukraine.

On April 18, the European Parliament (EP) recommended that the EU Council of Ministers sign a new visa facilitation agreement with Ukraine, which should make it easier for journalists, politicians, and relatives of EU citizens to obtain EU visas.

On the same day, the EP endorsed the prolongation, until October, of its monitoring mission to Ukraine, which is headed by former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former EP President Pat Cox.

Poles, who have always been enthusiastic about Ukraine’s integration into the EU, were especially active this April.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski stated that the atmosphere in Ukraine-EU relations improved after Lutsenko’s release, and Kwasniewski told Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov that many in Europe have stopped seeing events in Ukraine only in black and white.

He also predicted that the EU in ten years would ask Ukraine and Turkey to join. 

Sikorski was also among the four EU foreign ministers who arrived in Kiev on April 25 to check Ukraine’s progress.

At the start of the meeting with Yanukovych, Sikorski flattered him by saying that the association deal would be the Ukrainian president’s personal historic achievement.

After the meeting, Sikorski said he was more optimistic than before, although time was running out for Ukraine to meet EU conditions.

At the same time, the visitors were evasive on Tymoshenko.

The daily Kommersant-Ukraine noted on April 26 that they did not even mention her during two press briefings.

Earlier this month, the prime minister of another EU country, Andrus Ansip of Estonia, told Azarov that it would be wrong if the future of Ukraine-EU relations depended on “one card or rather one queen,” obviously referring to Tymoshenko. 

The EU, especially those of its members that used to be in the Soviet camp, seems more ready for concessions than a year or even a month ago.

Judging by their reactions to Lutsenko’s release from prison, a pardoning of Tymoshenko would make the signing of the association deal almost certain even if Ukraine failed to meet other conditions.

However, the situation with Tymoshenko is more complicated.

Apart from serving a seven-year sentence for gas contracts with Russia, she is also suspected of involvement in the murder of a people’s deputy in 1996.

Yanukovych said recently that it would be impossible to pardon her now as all the court hearings have not been completed.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

Ukraine’s Commission Advises Against Tymoshenko Pardon

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s presidential commission on pardons has advised President Viktor Yanukovych not to pardon jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, the deputy Prosecutor General said on Saturday.

Yulia Tymoshenko

“The commission has recommended [the Ukrainian president] not to grant a request.

Under the law, there are no grounds for the pardon,” Mikhail Gavrilyuk told RIA Novosti.

More than 20 female MPs sent a petition to Yanukovych to pardon Tymoshenko on April 18.

The president sent the request for the consideration of the presidential commission on pardons on April 19.

Tymoshenko remains in prison after being sentenced to seven years in October 2011 for exceeding her authority by signing a gas supply deal with Russia in 2009.

EU and other leaders have expressed their concern over her conviction, which they see as being handed out in response to her political opposition to Yanukovych, head of the Party of Regions, which is mostly supported by inhabitants of Ukraine's Russian-speaking north and eastern districts.

Source: RIA Novosti

Saturday, April 27, 2013

NJ Train Explosive Plot Thwarted: Ukraine Man Caught With Bombs

HOBOKEN, USA -- A Ukrainian man was arrested in New Jersey after he brought two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on a New Jersey Transit train just days before the Boston marathon bombings, a new report details.

Reports indicate that 27-year-old Mykyta Panasenko had the explosive devices eight days before the Boston Marathon explosions, which killed three people and injured over 200, according to The Jersey Journal.

Officials revealed that Panasenko boarded a train in Hoboken that was destined for Suffern, New York on April 7 while carrying the explosive devices.

Police noticed his unusual activities and arrested the man at the scene.

The investigation into Panasenko's intentions has been conducted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Port Authority Police Department.

Authorities indicated that the suspect built "two destructive devices, specifically improvised explosive devices (IEDs) constructed from a cylinder containing Pyrodex (black powder)."

The report has yet to be made public, but will be made so after public until his court hearing on April 31, according to the Huffington Post.

Initial reports indicate that Panasenko was born in Kiev, Ukraine and has lived in Jersey City for the last several years.

Records also show that he attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick and has been working with gaming company High 5 Games.

Panasenko was "recklessly creating widespread risk of injury or damage to a building which normally contains 25 or more persons by constructing the explosive devices," a source told The Jersey Journal.

Officers from the Jersey City Police Department Bomb Squad raided the house and found more evidence of suspicious activity.

Jersey City Police Deputy Chief Peter Nalbach explained that an anonymous tip led them to Panasenko and a search of his house uncovered more items that could have been used to build more bombs.

"Materials that may have been used to make an explosive device" were recovered at the residence, a law enforcement source added.

Source: CP America

Ukraine Marks Chornobyl Anniversary

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians have held a memorial ceremony in a downtown Kyiv church to honor the victims of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear-power plant disaster.

A man lights candles at a memorial dedicated to firefighters and workers who died after the Chornobyl nuclear disaster during a service near the Chornobyl plant in the city of Slavutych on April 26.

At the ceremony, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Vilkul paid homage to the "hundreds of thousands" of people who sacrificed their health or their lives to cope with the crisis.

Other top Ukrainian officials, including President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, are participating in events to mark the 27th anniversary of the accident, which released radiation equivalent to 500 Hiroshima atomic bombs. 

Yanukovych said the total cost of the incident for his country over the last 27 years has been almost $180 billion.

Anniversary Also Marked In Central Asia 

Elsewhere, several Central Asian cities have been marking the 27th anniversary of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear-plant disaster.

In a ceremony in Kyrgyzstan's capital on April 26, Bishkek, Mayor Isa Omurkulov and diplomats from the Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian Embassies laid flowers at a monument commemorating the disaster's victims.

A similar ceremony was held in Kyrgyzstan's southern city of Jalal-Abad.

In several cities in neighboring Kazakhstan, local citizens and Chornobyl veterans also honored the victims.

Dozens of Chornobyl veterans and their supporters rallied in Kazakhstan's western city of Oral demanding benefits and financial support from the government.

More than 50,000 of some 600,000 so-called Chornobyl liquidators, who participated in the effort to contain the disaster, were from five Central Asian republics.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Friday, April 26, 2013

EU Puts Fresh Pressure On Ukraine Over Tymoshenko, Reforms

KIEV, Ukraine -- Foreign ministers of several EU countries gave Ukraine a discouraging report on Thursday on its efforts to deepen ties with the bloc and suggested the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko remained a serious obstacle.

Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (2nd L), Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius (R), Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans (3nd L), and Denmark's Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen (L) speak to the media after their meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev, April 25, 2013.

They said agreements on free trade and political association with the European Union were being stymied in particular by cases of "selective justice", a term used by the West to describe the prosecution of rival politicians, including former prime minister Tymoshenko, under President Viktor Yanukovich.

Ukraine hopes to sign the deals at a summit in Vilnius in November.

But Brussels has made it conditional on Kiev passing a number of legal reforms and addressing Western criticism of its justice and electoral systems.

"The stakes are very high and time is very short," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters in Kiev on Thursday after meeting Yanukovich together with his colleagues from Lithuania, Denmark and the Netherlands.

"If the decision was to be taken now, I'm afraid, the answer on the signing would be 'no'," he said.

Yanukovich this month pardoned two former members of Tymoshenko's government who had been jailed on abuse-of-office charges, a move welcomed by Brussels.

But diplomats and analysts say he might be reluctant to do the same with regards to Tymoshenko, his fiercest political foe who led the 2004 Orange Revolution protests, derailing his first bid for presidency.

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011 on charges related to a 2009 gas deal with Russia which Yanukovich says has saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant energy prices.

Since last May, Tymoshenko, who has served twice as prime minister before narrowly losing the 2010 presidential run-off to Yanukovich, has been receiving treatment for back trouble in a state-run hospital in the city of Kharkiv.

Yanukovich himself says he cannot order her release because Tymoshenko is also due to be tried on tax evasion and embezzlement charges and is being investigated in a murder case.

She has denied all charges against her.

The EU shelved the deals with Ukraine over Tymoshenko in 2011, when they were initially due to be signed.

"You (Ukraine) have to dismiss all doubts about selective justice," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told reporters when asked about Tymoshenko. 

The EU says a deal needs to be sealed this year before the bloc turns its focus to European Parliament elections in 2014 and Ukraine itself holds a presidential election in 2015.

Poland's Sikorski urged Ukraine to act quickly.

"Ukraine has three critical months to do what is necessary... if we fail, we can spend decades, maybe generations arguing what went wrong," he said.

Source: Yahoo News

Vitali Klitschko: Can Boxing's 'Dr Ironfist' Become The Next President Of Ukraine?

KIEV, Ukraine -- At the end of a hotel bar in central London is an object that, momentarily, resists identification.

Vitali Klitschko speaks during a rally outside the Central Election Commission in Kiev.

It could be the back of a gigantic beshadowed human being.

Or it could be a freezer with a melon on top of it.

Only when the object moves do I realise that, despite the apparently impossible proportions, it’s him: the Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko, the 6ft 7.5in world heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician now aiming to become president of one of the most hostile and treacherous political systems on the planet.

Klitschko’s only visiting London briefly and I’m one of a few journalists to have been granted a brief audience.

I’m early, and the reporter who had the slot before me is still buttoning up her coat.

She seems rather flustered and is grinning at him dreamily.

To be honest, it’s hard to blame her.

Klitschko is intensely handsome, his face all deep angles and epic bones.

But there’s also a surprising softness to him, a velvety quality to his smile and a luxuriant slowness in the way he moves his limbs.

When I eventually sit in front of him, there is a sense of great power in repose.

It’s like watching a panther snoozing in the sun.

Klitschko has had an amazing life; two amazing lives, in fact.

His first incarnation, alongside his equally fearsome brother, Wladimir, is that of sporting megastar.

The first siblings ever to have held world boxing titles at the same time, both are considered to be among the greatest heavyweights of the modern age.

Vitali has won 45 of his 47 bouts, 41 by a knock out.

Klitschko officially retired on November 9 2005, before un-retiring himself again two years later.

Although he’s still officially the WBC world heavyweight champion (while Wladimir holds the WBA, IBF and WBO belts) he hasn’t fought for six months – a situation which British fighter David Haye, who’s been baiting the Klitschko brothers for years, would apparently like to change.

After losing to Wladimir on points in 2011, Haye claims to be desperate to step into the ring with the elder sibling, telling sports writers that, “I’m too fast, too sexy and too talented to be blown away by a large, slow robot from Ukraine.”

But, while insisting that he remains “the best in the world”, Vitali is now 41 and equivocates when asked whether he intends to keep fighting.

He has, however, ruled out the possibility of fighting 32-year-old Haye.

For one thing, he says that, when offered the chance of a bout in 2011, Haye failed to sign the contract.

And he’s certainly not going to be doing any favours for the Briton: in the run up to his encounter with Wladimir, Haye wore a T-shirt that bore an image of him holding both Klitschkos’ severed heads.

Wladimir called him an “embarrassment to boxing”, a remark that served to underscore the differences between the pugnacious Haye and the cerebral Klitschkos.

Vitali, nicknamed “Dr Ironfist”, has a PhD, and both men speak a multitude of languages.

Similarly, Vitali also rejects the possibility of ever taking part in what would surely be one of the most emotionally dramatic and compelling bouts ever staged: a fight between the brothers.

Such an event, he has said, would “break the heart of my mother”.

It might also break his own.

The siblings are famously close.

Their father was an officer in the Soviet air force, and raised them, with his wife, Nadia, at an airbase in Kiev.

At home, where all four Klitschkos shared a single room and kitchen, Wladimir Snr imposed strict discipline and punished his sons regularly with the belt.

Vitali was tall and skinny at school, and the target of bullies.

Shortly before his death from cancer in 2011, Vitali’s father told a documentary crew, “I drummed it into him that he had to fight. Losing was not an option.”

Growing up, the pair worshipped Bruce Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

They attended kick-boxing classes which, as it was seen as a Western pollution of martial arts, was forbidden.

They would spar with each other and, being five years Wladimir’s senior, Vitali would usually win, although both would end up bloodied.

Today, Vitali regards those days as a “sign from God” that the two should never fight.

It was Vitali’s fighting, and the opportunity it presented him to travel outside the Soviet Union, that ultimately led him to the life he wants to talk about today.

His new fight is on behalf of Ukraine, his stated mission: to take one of the world’s most corrupt countries, known best for its fixed elections and parliament punch ups, and turn it into a modern, functioning, democratic member of the EU.

“Many times, I had the chance to see many different countries,” he says.

“And always when I come back to Ukraine I ask why is it that very simple things that work around the world don’t work in my home country? And slowly I started to understand. Many politicians are not interested to make a change in our country. That’s why I came to this idea. We need to create a European country.”

As a youngster, Vitali was convinced that Ukraine was already the world’s greatest nation.

His parents would tell him how the capitalist leaders used their citizens as slaves while, at school, the pupils would spend time every morning writing lists of all the bad things they could think of about the United States.

But after he was actually offered the chance to visit the US, the lie could no longer bear scrutiny.

In the 2011 documentary, Klitschko, directed by the German film-maker Sebastian Dehnhardt, Vitali memorably recounted his first enraptured impressions of America.

“How can there be 100 types of cheese?” he recalled thinking. “That’s madness. There’s only one type of cheese. It’s called cheese.”

He wanted to drink an entire bucket of Coca-Cola; to stand in the middle of a shopping mall and just smell it.

It was, he says, like “going to the moon”.

When he returned home, he informed his father that everything they’d been told about capitalism was untrue.

His dad rejected the view.

“He said, ‘it’s a show put on especially for you," Vitali tells me now.

"They show you some nice places and, after that, use you as propaganda."

When communism dribbled to a halt, in 1991, Klitschko expected Ukraine to become an ordinary capitalist country.

But a healthy free market economy, with public employees on one side and private business owners on the other, wasn’t properly established.

Hence today, powerful politicians and glitteringly wealthy profit-makers tend to be the same people.

In Ukraine, as in many former Soviet states, public resources are routinely used for private gain.

“If you look at [the anti-corruption organisation] Transparency International, Ukraine comes out as the most corrupt country in Europe,” says Dr Sarah Whitmore, senior lecturer in politics at Oxford Brookes University.

“And the state is the main source of that corruption because it’s the main source of wealth. There are very few people with clean hands in places of power in Ukraine.
Very few.”

Klitschko formed his party, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (the acronym of which, UDAR, means “punch” in Ukrainian) to solve these chronic and institutional problems.

And, as the third largest faction in parliament, the party provides its leader with a good base to become president in the 2015 general election.

“It’s corruption that destroys our economy,” Klitschko tells me.

“Many investors are afraid to come into it. Secondly, there’s no competition. "Thirdly, in most countries, more than 60 per cent of the budget comes from taxes from small and middle businesses. In Ukraine, it’s less than 10 per cent. That’s why our economy doesn’t work. We have to change that. The first step will be to destroy corruption.”

It might not be so easy.

The last man who promised to drag Ukraine westward, and to exorcise corruption, was Viktor Yushchenko.

He ended up on the losing end of a fixed election, on the verge of death, with a catheter in his spine, his face blackened and pocked by the poison dioxin.

Does Klitschko worry that he’ll end up dead or, like Yushchenko’s equally ambitious prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, imprisoned on spurious charges?

“It’s true that politics is a dirty game, especially in Ukraine,” he says.

“They play with no rules. And we want to make rules. But my main interest has to be the millions of Ukranians and the interest of the country.”

Such idealism, however, might count for nothing if he attempts to reform the wrong sort of people.

It’s still not known who was behind the attempted assassination of Yushchenko, although historian and Vladimir Putin biographer Yuri Felshtinsky believes it was organised by the Russian security service, the FSB.

“It’s difficult to prove, but the person who was accused, the Ukrainian secret service officer Volodymyr Satsyuk, has received political asylum in Russia,” he says.

Suspicions of Russian involvement are not soothed by the fact that Putin himself went to extraordinary lengths to secure the election of his rival, the eastwards-looking Viktor Yanukovych.

While in London, is Klitschko not scared he could be assassinated by the shadowy Russian figures that flit around the city?

Klitschko grins and lifts the cup he’s been drinking from.

“Tea!” he says.

“You’ve been thinking about Litvinenko!”

His two assistants giggle at the reference to the former FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered by radioactive tea in 2006 at the Millennium Hotel, just one mile from where we are sitting.

“I have a feeling you’re…” he confers with his neighbour, checking the right word. “Paranoid!”

But surely Putin doesn’t want a westward-leaning Ukraine?

“Russia is not our enemy. Russia is a different country. You overestimate the power of Putin in Ukraine,” he says.

Practicalities, then.

How will this anti-corruption drive actually work?

Let’s start with the state services – the police and security agencies.

How do you clean decades of human muck from those vast, intricate hierarchies?

“You reload the system,” he says.

“I understand this will not be a popular decision, but I can’t see another way. We investigate, fire the old people, bring in new staff and pay good wages. And we have one law for everybody.”

This sounds simplistic.

After so many years of rot, how many incorruptible police officers can there possibly be?

How do you find the good ones?

“It will be by personal selection,” he says.

“Like in Georgia. Maybe it’s a bad example, but in one day, in Georgia, the whole police force was fired.”

So he’d sack the whole of the police?

“Yeah,” he says.

Klitschko pauses.

“Well,” he says, apparently thinking again, “I don’t think the example of Georgia would work in Ukraine. But it’s working in Georgia! It’s working!”

It’s hard to know if Klitschko is really as oblivious as he seems to the dangers of his plan.

Clearly, he’s taking his fight to ruthless people, with riches to protect.

Perhaps the self-confidence he’s gathered as a boxer has given him an exaggerated sense of his own invulnerability?

“I can’t be alone,” he says.

“That’s why I do it with a team. Alone, it’s not important how strong you are – if you’re alone, you’re weak. I am not alone.”

Yushchenko wasn’t alone, I point out, and he was nearly killed.

There’s a silence. His eyes bear down at me.

“Thousands, millions of Ukrainians support us,” he says.

“And I’m not afraid to fight.”

Which is exactly why the corrupt agencies that he’s seeking to “reload” must be concerned.

I ask Klitschko if his phones are tapped.

He nods at the mobile in front of him.

“I know that,” he says.

When I ask him if his family is afraid, he smiles. (Klitschko is married to Natalia Egorova, a former athlete and model, and has three children.)

“It’s better not to explain to my family,” he says.

“My children don’t realise what I’m doing.”

Up until now, Klitschko has been sitting back in his chair, his left arm on the table, his body facing slightly away from me.

When I press him, for one final time, to acknowledge the perils that he’s inviting into his life, he turns, leans forward and faces me squarely, his brow lowering, his jaw squeezing.

“In professional boxing,” he says, “if you go inside the ring and you’re not ready to give your life, you will never be the best. But you have to be prepared. You need good defence. "You have to know your skills. And must never give your opponent a chance to attack you. It’s exactly the same in politics.

"If you prepare well, have a good team around you and know the idea you’re fighting for, you will be successful. But a very important point: you always have to be ready to give everything to achieve your goal.”

Including your life?

He nods. “Including your life.”

Source: The Telegraph

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gazprom Warns Europeans Against Selling Gas To Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Gazprom warned European companies on Wednesday against what it alleges are illicit resales of Russian gas to Ukraine, stepping up pressure on its neighbour in a long-standing contractual dispute.

Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller

Ukraine argues that it is being forced to pay too much for its gas from the Russian company, which covers a quarter of Europe's gas needs.

Similar stand-offs led to temporary cuts in gas supplies to Europe in 2006 and 2009, though there has been no indication that such blocks - embarrassing both for Russia and Ukraine - could be repeated.

Russia ships more than half its gas exports to Europe via Ukraine, which is tied to a disputed long-term contract with Gazprom at higher prices than those paid by buyers in the European Union.

Ukraine began importing small volumes of gas from Europe last year and wants to buy up to 8 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year from central Europe to replace expensive Russian supplies.

Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller has said Ukraine is using "fraudulent" schemes to carry out shipments of Russian gas from European markets.

On Wednesday, his spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov warned European companies against such operations.

"We are sure that serious European companies will not take part in dubious gas deals with Ukraine, in which Gazprom's gas is used and which does not belong to (Ukraine's state company) Naftogaz," Kupriyanov said.

Ukraine agreed a ten-year contract for Russian gas supplies in 2009 under former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011 on abuse-of-office charges, including her part in signing the gas deal.

Gazprom says that Ukraine bought almost 33 bcm of gas from Russia last year - almost on a par with Germany, Gazprom's largest client.

Ukraine pays $430 per 1,000 cubic metres, far more than the $370 that is expected to be Gazprom's average price for Europe this year.

Ukraine has said it wants to cut Russian gas imports by a quarter and has signed a contract with Germany's RWE for alternative shipments that could provide about 5 bcm of gas this year.

Gazprom, meanwhile, has pressed Ukraine for underpaying its bill for Russian gas by $7 billion but has stopped short of threatening legal action.

Source: Yahoo News

TVi Suspends Broadcasts After Reshuffle

KIEV, Ukraine -- TVi, a Ukrainian television channel known for its investigative reports exposing corruption in the government, suspended broadcasts on Tuesday following a shareholder dispute and a reshuffle of top management.

Although the dispute existed before and was handled by courts, the quick reshuffle indicates the Ukrainian authorities may be supporting one of the parties in the dispute.

“This is a classic raider attack on the channel,” Kostiantyn Kagalovskiy, known so far as an owner of the channel, said, adding that channel’s statutory papers had been stolen recently.

TVi, popular among those seeking balanced news converge and investigative reports on corruption, is unprofitable like most other television channels in Ukraine. 

Kagalovskiy has recently approached several wealthy businessmen, including billionaire Dmytro Firtash, seeking to sell the channel for $120 million.

However, no one appeared to be ready to pay more than $12 million for the asset, according to people familiar with the situation.

“My understanding is that some Ukrainian party has decided to take control over the channel through using the old dispute,” Mustafa Nayem, a host of talk show on TVi, wrote in his blog on Tuesday.

“It appears to be cheaper and simpler.”

Kagalovskiy was known to have the dispute with Vladimir Gusinskiy, a Russian businessman who once used to own NTV, one of the most popular television channels in Russia.

Gusinskiy was a co-owner of TVi.

Oleksandr Altman, an Odessa-born former advisor to the energy minister who now lives in the U.S., on Tuesday emerged as a new investor in TVi.

Altman, who appears to control security force at the channel, appointed Artem Shevchenko, a television journalist, as the new top manager of TVi, replacing Natalia Katerynchuk.

The reshuffle was immediately confirmed and registered by the Ukrainian authorities, raising suspicions that the authorities may be secretly backing Altman and Shevchenko.

Both, Kagalovskiy and Altman claimed control over the channel at their meetings with reporters and editors of TVi on Tuesday.

However, Shevchenko did not allow the reporters and editors to come on live broadcast to express their position.

This prompted a strike at channel, which suspended broadcasting and is currently re-running previously recorded shows.

“Today on TVi you will be watching yesterday,” Nayem said addressing viewers. 

“The question is that the channel must not be destroyed,” Valeriy Karpuntsev, a lawmaker from the opposition Udar group, said.

“The channel is one of few that are providing unbiased reporting.”

“That’s why Udar lawmakers are here to verify whether the acquisition has taken place or they simply want to take it,” Karpuntsev said.

“The situation is disputable concerning owners, non-owners and managers,” he said.

“We were provided copies of different papers. Some confirm [the legality of the reshuffle] some don’t.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Two Ukrainian Pilots Abducted By Taliban

KIEV, Ukraine -- Two Ukrainian pilots along with seven Turkish workers may have been abducted by Taliban in eastern Afghanistan when a Russian-made helicopter resorted to emergency landing, Russian radio reported Monday, citing a local official.

Taliban rebels in Afghanistan

“The hostages are alive,” Radio Rossii reported citing Mohammad Darwesh, a spokesman for local Afghan authorities in the region.

“The authorities are holding negotiations with Taliban on release of the hostages.

Taliban has not yet issued any demands.”

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on Monday could not confirm whether Ukrainian citizens were onboard of the helicopter.

The helicopter was forced down late Sunday because of a storm, according to the Afghan transport company that operated it, and it had to land in Mangal Khel, a mountainous area of Logar Province that is almost entirely controlled by the Taliban, The New York Times reported on Monday.

In all, 11 people were abducted, according to reports from the Turkish foreign ministry and Afghan government officials.

They included eight Turkish engineers, one Afghan man and the two pilots of the Russian-made helicopter.

One pilot was identified by The New York Times as Russian, while the nationality of the second pilot could not be confirmed.

How the Taliban leverage their unexpected capture of foreigners will indicate, to some extent, their overall priorities.

They could use the hostages for short-term goals, like offering them in exchange for the release of Taliban prisoners from the Bagram Prison, where some 3,000 accused insurgents are in custody.

Or they might quietly seek a large ransom in exchange for the hostages’ release to help finance their operations, according to the newspaper.

And as efforts grind on to restart either American or Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, there is also the chance that the windfall of hostages might lead the Taliban to believe that they suddenly are in a stronger position in any potential negotiations. 

Afghan officials, one of whom described the abductions as “very terrible,” said they were worried that the hostages might be taken to Pakistan, where many international terrorist groups are based.

The area where the helicopter landed is less than 20 miles from the Pakistani border. 

Source: Ukrainian Journal

The Coal-Mining Racket Threatening Ukraine's Economy

DONBASS, Ukraine -- Sometimes, they are little more than holes, in the woods outside villages or even in backyards and under houses, but Ukraine's illegal coal mines can also be huge, open-cast operations.

Illegal small mines mark the landscape.

What started as hand-to-mouth survival, 20 years ago, is now big business.

Mihailo Volynets, the wiry head of Ukraine's Independent Miners' Union, presents the situation flatly:

"We know how much coal there is from the state mines and from the private mines, and we know how much coal is up for sale."

About 6.5m tonnes more coal - 10% of Ukraine's total output - is for sale than is officially mined.

"There's no explanation... maybe Martians brought it," Mr Volynets jokes, without laughing.

Illegal mining in the Donbass and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine is there for all to see.

Coal trucks routinely rumble along roads where there are no legal mines.

A brief stroll in the woods outside the town of Snizhne passes by three pits.

But the money made from these mines does not make it into the nearby communities.

Locals here have been agitating for a crackdown.

"It is excessively dangerous for men to work in these pits and no one benefits from this here," says Ira, whose children, like so many, have moved away.

"The whole region is just not functioning."

For some, though, the illegal mining business is functioning fine.

With no taxes to pay or workers' rights to respect, wildcat mines produce far cheaper coal than legal ones.

'Siphoning money' 

Thanks to their contacts in the murky world of Ukrainian politics and business, the illegal mining bosses can sell this coal via legal mines.

In so doing, notes Oleksa Shalayskiy of the anti-corruption website "Nashi Groshi" ("Our money"), owners of illegal mines can even benefit from state subsidies, intended to cover costs that have not been incurred.

"It's just another way of siphoning taxpayers' money into private hands," he says.

In Donetsk it is widely believed that powerful people are creaming off the profits.

Mr Shalayskiy points out that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man and historically a staunch supporter of President Viktor Yanukovych, is seeing his legal mines lose out to the illegal competition.

Mr Akhmetov has made no public comment about this.

However, on condition of anonymity, a source close to Mr Akhmetov's mining company DTEK confirmed for the BBC that the company was deeply concerned about illegal mining.

It constitutes unfair competition, and lures young miners away with better pay, albeit to worse and more dangerous conditions.

In February two publications, Kommersant Ukraine and Zerkalo Nedeli, suddenly ran stories that harshly criticised the illegal mining situation, arousing suspicion that somebody powerful had put the newspapers up to it and provided information. 

Ukrainian journalists suspect that anonymous aerial shots published in Zerkalo Nedeli and elsewhere must have been provided by some legal mining companies. 

Meanwhile, according to Mihailo Volynets, the economy is under a dire threat, since more than 95% of Ukraine's domestic energy resources are in the form of coal.

"If this situation continues for another two years," he says, "then dozens of state mines will have to close down. Ukraine will become dependent on imports not only of gas and oil, but of coal, too."

Source: BBC News

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ukraine At A Crossroads With Europe?

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Kiev Security Forum, held in the Ukrainian capital on April 18-19, brought together Ukrainians, Europeans and Americans to discuss the current challenges facing Ukraine.

Serhiy Vlasenko

Much of the discussion centered on Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union, in particular on whether Kiev will make sufficient progress in meeting EU conditions to permit signature in November of an EU-Ukraine association agreement.

Several speakers asserted that Ukraine is at a crossroads with Europe.

“Ukraine is at a crossroads” has been written or said so many times over the past 20 years that it has become something of a cliché.

This time, however, it may be for real.

The choices that Kiev makes in the next weeks and months will determine whether Ukraine moves closer to Europe or whether the EU-Ukraine relationship gets stuck on hold.

EU and Ukrainian negotiators concluded the association agreement at the end of 2011.

It would significantly deepen Ukraine’s links with the European Union.

Among other things, it includes a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement that would open up large segments of the EU’s economy to Ukrainian exports.

It is a big deal.

Although the association agreement was initialed in early 2012, it has since sat in limbo.

The European Union has declined to sign given growing concerns over the past two years about negative developments regarding democracy within Ukraine.

EU officials have asked Kiev to make progress on three conditions — implementation of its general reform agenda, reform of its electoral law, and an end to selective prosecution — in order to permit signature of the agreement at the EU Eastern Partnership summit in November.

These conditions were reaffirmed at an EU-Ukraine summit in February, which called for “concrete progress” by May.

Many regard the third condition as the most critical.

More than a dozen senior members of the opposition have been sent to jail since President Victor Yanukovych took office in 2010.

Most attention focuses on the case of former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

She was convicted in 2011 for signing a gas contract with Russia in a trial that received broad criticism in the West.

The near unanimous view in European capitals and Washington holds that Tymoshenko is a victim of selective prosecution.

On the day her conviction was announced, even Moscow joined in the barrage of condemnation of the verdict.

In the seven weeks since the EU-Ukraine summit, there has been good news and bad news.

The good news: Yanukovych pardoned Yuriy Lutsenko, a leading opposition leader, along with one other opposition member.

The bad news: Serhiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko’s lawyer, was stripped of his membership in the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) on grounds that he could not hold his Rada seat and continue his legal work.

Critics cite this as another selective application of the rules, as many Rada members, including in the pro-government Regions Party, hold outside jobs that would appear to contravene the rule.

And more bad news: the Prosecutor General is pursing another case against Tymoshenko, alleging her involvement in the 1996 murder of businessman Yevhen Shcherban.

Given the many questions about how the 2011 trial was conducted, few analysts have confidence that this legal process will be objective.

At the Kiev Security Forum, several speakers made clear the key importance that Europe attaches to what happens to Tymoshenko.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Vice President of the European People’s Party — the European Parliamentary party with which Tymoshenko’s party is affiliated — took a stark position:

Tymoshenko had to be released, or there would be no signature in November, and Ukraine would miss its window of opportunity with the European Union.

EU Ambassador to Ukraine Jan Tombinski cautioned that Kiev had to understand that the European Union only accepted democratic states that abided by the rule of law.

European Parliament member Pawel Robert-Kowal warned that, even if the association agreement were signed, Ukraine had to demonstrate real progress, as the agreement would face the challenge of ratification by 27 individual EU member states.

During and on the margins of the conference, some Ukrainians expressed optimism that the Ukrainian government would take a positive step regarding Tymoshenko.

Others doubted that Yanukovych would take any action on his archrival.

Some expected the Ukrainian government to try to do the minimum necessary in order to argue that it had met the EU conditions and assert that freeing Lutsenko, but not Tymoshenko, should prove sufficient progress on the condition of selective prosecution.

Right now, EU member states appear to be split.

Some, primarily in Central Europe and the Baltic region, do not want to delay signature of the association agreement over Tymoshenko.

They fear that Ukraine might otherwise drift into Russia’s orbit.

Other EU member states, apparently now in the majority, believe Kiev must do more to show its commitment to European democratic values.

France and Germany lead this group.

The fate of Tymoshenko has become a domestic issue in Germany, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said on April 17 that, “if the Yuliya Tymoshenko case is not settled, the association agreement cannot be signed.”

Ukrainian diplomats understand that Berlin presents the toughest case to win over. 

Although the European Union and Ukraine have agreed that concrete progress should be made by May, that might not prove a hard deadline for an EU decision on whether or not to sign the association agreement in November.

Some in Kiev believe a final EU decision could wait until later in the year, perhaps as late as October.

The question remains, regardless of when the European Union decides: will Ukraine do enough to secure signature?

That may turn on Tymoshenko’s fate — and how badly Yanukovych wants the association agreement.

Neither Brussels nor Kiev appear to have a Plan B in case the association agreement is not signed.

In late March, Tombinski warned that, if the agreement were not signed in November, the press of other EU business in 2014 and the Ukrainian presidential election in 2015 would put Ukraine and the association agreement on the back-burner until late 2015.

Another European diplomat recently suggested the delay would last until 2016. 

Ukrainians do not want to think about what happens if the association agreement is not signed.

But they expect a failure to sign to be warmly welcomed in Moscow, to be followed by a greater Russian push to draw Ukraine into the Customs Union that currently includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Yanukovych thus far has resisted joining the Customs Union.

Doing so would be incompatible with a free trade agreement with the European Union and would essentially kill the association agreement — which is almost certainly Moscow’s objective.

So, Ukraine may indeed be facing a critical crossroads.

It is one where the key choices are as much about Yanukovych’s domestic policy — how democracy will develop and how the opposition is treated — as they are about foreign policy.

If Yanukovych makes the right choices, he will take an important step in integrating Ukraine into Europe.

If he makes the wrong choices, he risks miring the country in a gray zone between Europe and Russia and having to face Moscow’s pressure with a severely weakened hand.

Source: Brrokings Institution

No Quick Pardoning For Jailed Ex-Premier Tymoshenko, Ukraine PM Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has indicated that the country's president will not consider pardoning imprisoned former premier Yulia Tymoshenko any time soon.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov welcomes deputies during a parliament session in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, April 19, 2013. Opposition lawmakers failed to secure enough vote to force Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to resign.

The West has called the jailing of Tymoshenko, the country's main opposition leader, politically motivated.

The EU warns it will not sign a key association agreement with Kiev until the Tymoshenko case is resolved.

Earlier this month, Yanukovych pardoned a top Tymoshenko ally, Yuri Lutsenko, on humanitarian grounds after the former interior minister served more than half of his term on corruption charges and his health deteriorated in jail.

Tymoshenko supporters have since renewed calls to free her.

But Azarov told reporters Tuesday that this question "will be solved when ongoing cases are over."

The cases include corruption and murder charges and could take months or years. 

Source: Fox News

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ukraine Starts Joint Combine Harvester Production With Germany

KIEV, Ukraine -- This year Ukraine will launch a line of high-performing harvesting combines Tucano-440 jointly with the German company CLAAS.

CLAAS Tucano-440

The combines will be produced at the OOO NPP Kherson Machine-Building Plant in southern Ukraine.

CLAAS representative Jan-Hendrik Mohr stated that the jointly produced machinery would be used in Ukraine by the end of this year.

The parties have yet to agree on the production volume and model range, while the necessary components are to be shipped to Ukraine shortly.

Most of the machinery will be sold to Ukrainian agricultural producers.

At present, Ukrainian agriculture doesn't have enough combines and tractors, which results in losing a substantial amount of crop.

Due to the equipment shortage Ukraine loses nearly 5 million tons of grain annually, reported Ukraine's agricultural minister Mykola Prysyazhnyuk.

There are 40 manufacturing plants in Ukraine that produce agricultural machinery, according to the Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov.

The Ukrainian government will help renew thousands of combine harvesters, sowing equipment, and tractors in the agricultural sector.

Development of agricultural machinery construction is one of the priority tasks of Ukrainian agriculture, according to the State Program of Economy Activation (SPEA) in 2013-2014.

The program stipulates that the government facilitates the lease of agricultural machinery for Ukrainian agricultural producers.

The state budget will provide nearly $21 million for the project.

The money will help producers buy more than 4,000 machines in 2013.

SPEA is to stimulate the domestic production and promote import substitution in all areas including agriculture and machine building.

Thus, in April 2013, Ukrainian state machine building company Yuzhmash signed a cooperation agreement with Chinese companies CITIC International Contracting Co., Ltd. and YTO International, Ltd. regarding the joint construction of tractors YTO-PMZ and their supply to Ukraine.

YTO tractors will have a wide model range, varying in capacity between 17 and 200 hp.

They will be used to mechanise labor-consuming agricultural work.

According to the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Ukraine requires about 400,000 tractors, reported Ukrainian News.

Presently, Ukraine is one of the world's top grain exporters.

In 2012, Ukraine had a 12.9 percent share of the global corn market, 18.5 percent share - of the world barley market, and a 4.5 percent share of the wheat market. 

Source: Herald Online

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Elmar Brok: 'Ukraine's Conduct Is Not Acceptable'

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Elmar Brok, head of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, has called on Ukraine to carry out further reforms.

Brok: "We are in favor of visa facilitation".

In a DW interview he talks about the latest visa agreement and the issue of EU association.

DW: The European Parliament just ratified the visa facilitation agreement with Ukraine? What do you make of it? 

Elmar Brok: We are in favor of visa facilitation with Ukraine.

We believe that ordinary people should have the possibility of travelling more often to the EU, especially young people seeking education and information.

This allows people to get to know each other and contributes to a stronger Europeanization of Ukraine.

Were there any concerns about further easing visa restrictions? 

First of all, all security issues need to be clarified.

Then you have to ensure that all technical conditions are met.

The next step is to find ways to stop those in Ukraine who are violating European principles from profiting from these new measures.

This is already being practiced in some cases, for instance, towards Belarus.

Furthermore, we know that the United States has implemented similar restrictions against Renat Kuzmin, Ukraine's deputy prosecutor general.

That is why we must make clear that nobody who violates human rights will be allowed to profit from the visa facilitation.

Are you solving the issue by not allowing controversial people such as Renat Kuzmin to enter the EU? 

It is not just about Kuzmin, but also about the rights of the prosecutor general's office.

Ukraine's criminal trial law still lacks reform.

Nevertheless, we must see that Kuzmin is personally responsible for the case against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as well as other cases of selective prosecution.

Both Pat Cox, the European Parliament's envoy and former president, and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski have made clear that Ukraine's conduct is as yet not acceptable.

What are the core statements of the Cox- Kwasniewski mission? 

We have been successful in obtaining the release of former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko and pushing for reform in criminal trial law.

But it has become consistently clear that this simply isn't enough.

The issues regarding selective justice, especially in the case of Tymoshenko remain largely unsolved.

The same is true for matters surrounding the prosecutor general's office and the new electoral law, which is being implemented on the basis of agreements with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

The decisive point was made by the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament last December.

Ukraine must make an effort in order to meet the requirements for signing the association deal at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius next November. 

Source: Deutsche Welle

Ukraine Fondly Recalls Thatcher’s Visit

KIEV, Ukraine -- Margaret Thatcher visited Kiev in 1990 when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.

Margaret Thatcher

Many experts and politicians in Eastern Europe, believe it was not just a simple state trip but the start of a wave that culminated in Ukraine’s transition from socialism to a market economy.

Euronews asked Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of an independent Ukraine, why he did not implement economic policies based on Thatcher’s experiences.

“It was not possible to take radical steps quickly and to change that system. The mindset of people had to be changed. We had to prepare civil servants who didn’t understand what a market economy is,” said Kravchuk.

“As a president I didn’t have a full understanding of what a market economy was about. So we had to learn the process first and then take radical steps,” he added. 

Despite the slow pace of economic reforms, some major privatisations did take place when Kravchuk was president.

Most eastern European observers believe Thatcher opened up a Pandora’s Box in the region when she famously declared that Mikhail Gorbachev was a man she could do business with.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara believes her importance cannot be underestimated:

“Her personal contribution to the new composition of a new Europe is a great one. That’s the reason why we are in great sympathy with this great person.”

Not everyone agrees that Thatcher’s contribution was beneficial but few in Ukraine want to return to the days of the past.

Source: euronews

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ukraine Government Beats Off No Confidence Vote

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's government survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Friday despite its unpopularity over pension reform and charges of corruption - an outcome that reaffirmed President Viktor Yanukovich's grip as he eyes a second term in office.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov

Opposition politician Arseny Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister and ex-minister of economy, pushed the opposition motion, charging Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government with pursuing policies that only enriched those in power.

"The people of Ukraine have been deceived by these authorities, this president, prime minister and government," he told parliament.

"You changed a lot, but changed things only for yourselves, for your own pockets, and not for Ukrainians."

Azarov, a long-time ally of Yanukovich, dismissed Yatsenyuk's criticism on Facebook, saying the opposition had shown a lamentably "low level of professional discussion".

"Lies, demagoguery, populism, insults and unfounded allegations - all unacceptable in civilized discussion - continue to be used," he said.

Even with support from some communists, traditional allies of Yanukovich's ruling Party of the Regions, the opposition could muster only 190 votes to support the move to bring down Azarov's government, well short of the required 226 votes.

Azarov, 65, has led the government in the former Soviet republic since Yanukovich won election as president in February 2010.

But rampant corruption among officials, pension reform in 2011 which raised the retirement age for women from 55 to 60, as well as tax reform which has squeezed small business concerns has made his government highly unpopular.

With the 62-year-old Yanukovich gearing up to launch a second bid for the presidency in 2015, there has been speculation that he might drop Azarov to improve his own image.

But Friday's vote appeared to cement the Azarov government, which is negotiating a $15 billion stand-by loan from the International Monetary Fund, firmly in place for the next few months.

It also underscored the limitations of the united opposition parties despite their ability to bring thousands out on to the streets in weekend demonstrations across the country.

The united opposition includes the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which was buoyed by the release from prison last Sunday of her former interior minister, Yury Lutsenko, under a presidential pardon.

She is serving a seven-year jail sentence for abuse-of-power while in office and her continued imprisonment is threatening the signing of landmark agreements on political association and free trade with the European Union in November.

Friday's vote underscored the fact that the balance of power in parliament remains with Yanukovich's Regions which can still count on the support of communists and most non-affiliated deputies for crucial votes.

The Regions reasserted its control over the legislature this month, ending the opposition's blockade of parliamentary proceedings by decamping and holding a session in a different building.

They have also defeated an opposition move to call a mayoral election in the capital city of Kiev - which the opposition had hoped to win - and allowed a non-elected appointee of Yanukovich to continue running the city.

Source: Yahoo News

Extension of European Parliament's Ukraine Mission: A Triumph Of Dialogue Over Isolation

STRASBOURG, France -- The European Parliament has acknowledged the success of the Cox-Kwasniewski monitoring mission to Ukraine, extending its remit until September.

European Parliament

There had been speculation that the mission, headed by former European Parliament (EP) President Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, could end April 18th in Strasbourg, but in the past few weeks there was positive news from Kiev with the decision by Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych to pardon jailed former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko and five others.

Lutsenko, an ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, had been convicted of crimes ranging from embezzlement to abuse of office.

Tymoshenko was not considered for a pardon, as she has not yet exhausted all her appeals and legal steps, according to Ukrainian authorities.

The mission's extension was supported by all political parties in the European Parliament, showing the success of engagement and dialogue rather than isolation tactics.

Polish MEP Pawel Kowal, head of the Parliamentary Delegation on Cooperation with Ukraine, underlined the importance of an active dialogue as a tool for deeper European integration of Ukraine.

"The principle of the mission's work is based on a dialogue and it works better than boycott threats and other political tools," he said.

Kwasniewski said the extension is an acknowledgement that his mission is a work in progress.

"We see that many steps forward have already been made. But still a lot needs to be done. And we, through our mission in Ukraine, are supporting the process of meeting the association criteria," he said, referring to the terms of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, which is set to be signed in November.

The European Parliament also approved visa-free travel for Ukraine, a key measure included in the Association Agreement.

Kwasniewski said Kiev has played an important part in getting his mission extended.

He praised the efforts to unblock the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), which had held up legislation vital to Ukraine's European integration.

And he said the softening of the hard-line position by Opposition parties, including Tymoshenko's Fatherland, to support bills vital to EU integration "opens the way" for further progress.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Friday, April 19, 2013

President Seeking To Dump Prime Minister?

KIEV, Ukraine -- A senior ruling party lawmaker on Wednesday denied speculation that President Viktor Yanukovych is secretly seeking to replace Prime Minister Mykola Azarov with First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov

Azarov will face a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Friday.

The motion, initiated by opposition groups, needs to be supported by the Communist Party and by independent lawmakers to be successful.

Opposition leaders said there were signs indicating the Communist Party, which on several occasions sided with the ruling party, has been secretly asked to back the motion.

If Azarov loses the vote, he would be automatically dismissed along with the entire government.

Yanukovych has been long seeking to promote Arbuzov, who is believed to be very close to Yanukovych’s son, Oleksandr, according to people with knowledge.

This would fit the pattern of all high profile appointments in the country, from the Finance Minister, the Revenue and Fees Minister, the Interior Minister to the governor of the National Bank of Ukraine.

All of these officials are close allies of Oleksandr Yanukovych, whose wealth has been growing exponentially since his father has become the president in February 2010.

But the ruling Regions Party was split with a half of their lawmakers backing Azarov and vehemently refusing to support the promotion of Arbuzov.

Hryhoriy Smitiukh, a senior member of the Regions Party, on Wednesday dismissed speculations and said there were no plans to replace Azarov with Arbuzov.

“I am convinced the Mykola Yanovych [Azarov] will keep working,” Smitiukh said in an interview with Radio Liberty.

“Nothing is eternal, but we will work through the year 2015, until after the presidential election. This is guaranteed.”

Smitiuk also dismissed speculations that the Communist Party may turn against Azarov.

“The Communists will not vote for the dismissal of the government,” Smitiukh said.

“If you look at the track record of the Communists in Parliament, they always have their pragmatic long-term plans. They are guided by these plans.”

“Don’t even hope that the Communist will vote,” Smitiukh said.

“They can declare slogans, demand some actions, but as far as the government’s dismissal is concerned – they will not go for it. I am convinced.”

A spokesman for the Communist Party declined to comment on whether the party would back the motion.

Neither the Regions Party nor the three opposition groups control majority of seats in Parliament.

This makes the Communist Party’s position key to whether the motion is rejected or approved.

Parliament, which was blocked by the opposition groups since April 3, resumed its normal sessions on Tuesday, following a compromise between the groups and the Regions Party.

The compromise includes scheduling the no-confidence motion, and also vote on legislation that may lead to the release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

The compromise also includes efforts to schedule the next Kiev mayoral election and a vote to cancel the government’s controversial pension reform.

The Regions Party, which has weak political support in Kiev, defeated the plan for the Kiev mayoral election, leaving a Yanukovych appointee in charge of the Kiev government indefinitely.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

EU Countries Show Interest In Ukraine's Gas Transportation System

KIEV, Ukraine -- Poland, Hungary, Italy, Germany and other European states are currently negotiating the use of Ukraine's underground gas storage facilities.

Ukraine's Minister of Energy and Coal Eduard Stavytskyi

This was announced by Ukraine's Minister of Energy and Coal Eduard Stavytskyi at a press conference in Kiev.

According to the minister, Poland, for instance, considers using gas storage facilities to be able to control the prices on the domestic natural gas market.

EU member-states first showed their interest in Ukrainian gas storages in February 2013, for its gas transportation system (GTS) boasts the extensive underground storage facilities - 13 units with the total capacity of more than 31 billion cubic meters.

Such capacity allows for stocking sufficient volume of gas during summer months, so that it can be utilized during peak situations in winter time in Europe.

Importantly, on May 3, 2013, in Brussels Ukraine and the EU will hold a roundtable regarding further development of the Ukrainian gas market.

The roundtable will be chaired by EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger and Ukraine's Energy Minister Stavytsyi.

The invitation to discuss the modernization of the Ukrainian GTS and the establishment of the Eastern European gas hub in Ukraine was sent to most of the leading gas companies, including Russia's Gazprom.

In addition to EU's support for Ukrainian GTS modernization, the 27-nation bloc helps Ukraine diversify its gas supplies.

Thus, starting November 2012, Ukraine has been receiving German gas through Polish pipelines.

The amount of gas imported through Polish territory in November 2012 - April 2013 reached 171 million cubic meters.

Furthermore, in 2013, Ukraine intends to sign agreements regarding reverse gas supply from Germany through Hungarian and Slovakian territories.

The expected volume of gas Ukraine will receive under such arrangement can reach 7 billion cubic meters.

According to Minister Stavytskyi, this should influence the current price Ukraine is paying for Russian gas (over $400 per thousand cubic meters of gas).

Notably, in March 2013, many private companies along with Ukraine's public company Naftogaz started supplying natural gas both from Europe and Russia to Ukraine.

Currently, the Eastern European country is purchasing most of its imported gas from Russia (the projected 20 billion cubic meters in 2013).

Source: Herald Online

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ukraine Continues To Play With The Rules, Not By The Rules

KIEV, Ukraine -- In October 2002, President Leonid Kuchma visited Warsaw where North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Javier Solana told him, “Sometimes Ukraine seems to be playing with, not by, the rules”.

Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko.

A most recent case in point is the April 7 “pardon” of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko in an attempt to appease the Aleksander Kwasniewski–Pat Cox commission (composed of the former presidents of Poland and the European Parliament, respectively).

The commission is due to provide an interim report to the European Parliament on April 18, 2013, regarding 11 benchmarks on reform and selective use of justice in Ukraine.

Although released, Lutsenko’s criminal record remains, and he cannot stand for office or enter government until 2023 (eight years after his prison term was to end). 

The release was carefully staged by Ukrainian authorities, with Valeria Lutkovska, Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsperson requesting two days earlier for Lutsenko’s “pardon” on health grounds because all legal avenues in Ukraine were now closed.

The European Union, the United States and the US Helsinki Commission responded with a renewed demand for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko.

All legal avenues have been exhausted in the Tymoshenko case as well, with the last appeal rejected in August 2012.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group wrote, “There is nothing to stop Ms [sic] Lutkovska from seeking a pardon, nor is the President granting it” as “[t]he precedent has, after all, been set with Lutsenko’s pardon being issued on the basis of an appeal from the Ombudsperson and not on his personal request”.

The decision to release or keep Tymoshenko imprisoned is in the hands of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Playing with the rules means that Lutsenko can be released because he is not a serious threat to the president’s strategy while a freed Tymoshenko would be a double threat to Yanukovych’s re-election in 2015 and, failing that, as a mobilizer of a second “Orange Revolution.”

Tymoshenko will, therefore, not be released — especially following the launching in February of criminal murder charges against her.

Political and economic reforms, another aspect of the Kwasniewski-Cox commission, are unlikely to resume ahead of the 2015 elections; an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation left Kiev last week (April 10) without a new agreement because of Ukraine’s failure to accept stringent economic restructuring.

Since 2010, playing with the rules has become central to the authorities’ “Yanukovych Forever!” and “Stop Orange Revolution-2” strategy.

The strategy has six policies and outcomes.

• In 2010, Ukraine’s parliamentary rules were changed to permit individual deputies (as opposed to factions) to join parliamentary coalitions, leading to widespread political corruption.

In the same year, the Constitutional Court annulled the 2004 constitutional changes, thus returning Ukraine to the 1996 presidential constitution.

• The ruling Party of Regions has changed election dates three times — local elections from May to October 2010, parliamentary from 2011 to 2012 (the 1996 constitution allows for four-year parliamentary terms) and Kiev city council and mayoral election from 2012 to 2015.

• The parliamentary election law was changed from a proportional system (used in 2006 and 2007) to a mixed proportional-majoritarian one for the 2012 elections.

A referendum is to be held this year to change the law to a fully majoritarian system, used only once in 1994.

Democratic Initiatives Foundation sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina warned that the referendum, if it passes, will mark “the end of democracy in Ukraine”.

The law on referendums itself, which was adopted last year, plays with the rules by permitting the authorities to control the results.

Yanukovych is politically vested in the results of this referendum, which will be a vote of confidence on his rule.

If it passes, Bekeshkina argues, the election law changes will allow “Yanukovych [to] remain forever” by providing him with a means to achieve “an absolute parliamentary majority and to change the constitution as [he] wishes”.

• The referendum will change presidential elections, which were held with two voting rounds on five occasions since 1991, to a single round.

The aim is to ensure Yanukovych wins immediately in 2015 without having to face a single opponent in a second round of voting.

Eastern Ukrainian political forces will unite around one candidate and can buy off the Communists.

Western Ukrainians (like the opposition throughout Eurasia) are divided among a number of candidates and would collectively, therefore, lose in the first election round (the exception was Ukraine in 2004).

• The authorities have shown a willingness to adopt legislation behind closed doors without the opposition in attendance.

Such a closed-door session on April 4, described as a “putsch” by opposition media, allegedly included 244 lawmakers while excluding all opposition deputies.

The parliament has refused to provide a copy of the signatures of the 244 supposedly in attendance (as required under new regulations) and no lists of deputies who voted have been posted on the parliamentary web site.

Nevertheless, the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine ruled that the April 4 session was legitimate.

• If the referendum passes, the president will likely disband the parliament, claiming it is not working, and schedule pre-term elections under the new majoritarian election law, consequently leading to the marginalization of the opposition, as in Russia.

A rubber stamp parliament could then change the constitution along the lines of the flawed and not internationally recognized April 2000 referendum, which, if adopted, would have expanded presidential powers and created a bicameral legislature.

In addition to a single-round presidential election, Yanukovych’s administration will seek to reduce the number of deputies from 450 to 300, turn the parliament bicameral with an appointed Senate, and remove legislative deputies’ immunity from prosecution.

Without immunity, parliamentarians will be totally subservient to the executive. 

Playing with the rules through these six policies reveals a lack of commitment to European values.

Releasing Lutsenko will in all probability be insufficient for the Kawsniewski-Cox commission to recommend that the EU sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine at the Eastern Partnership summit in November.

And without a clear path toward European integration, Ukraine may be left to drift closer into Russia’s orbit.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation